By Casey Feehan
A graduate of ICE’s Culinary Arts program, Valerie Broussard blazed a new trail in the field of foraging when she became Starwood’s first Forager and Director of Purchasing at the W Austin. Now heading up her own consulting company, she spends her time connecting with nearby farms and ranches, bringing local ingredients from artisanal producers to a larger audience in the community. With a resume that includes positions like food stylist, recipe tester and private chef, Valerie is an inspiring example of how culinary school graduates can craft a unique path to success in the food industry.
What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?
I was working in the fashion industry by day and waiting tables by night. I’ve always been interested in food and was curious about what was going on in the kitchen, but wasn’t sure I wanted to become a restaurant chef. ICE introduced me to other career options within the culinary industry.
What sparked your decision to attend culinary school?
One night, while covering a friend’s coat-checking shift at the restaurant Po (this was back in the late 90’s), I naively asked Chef Mario Batali how I could get behind-the-scenes work on his TV show, and he suggested I attend culinary school. So I did.
Where was your externship, and where have you worked since graduating?
I externed at JoJo and stayed on in a paid position for a few months after completing my required hours. I then worked in test kitchens, such as Martha Stewart Living and the Food Network. I’ve done freelance work as a food stylist, writer, recipe tester, and private chef, and spent some time in retail shops like Balducci’s and Citarella as well. After all that, I left NYC for a year-long Master’s program in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy.
When I returned to the States I worked as a buyer at an organic events facility in Austin, TX, and then became Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ first Forager at the W Austin. It was a purchasing position that allowed me to focus on sourcing local, sustainable and artisanal ingredients, along with training the hotel staff of 300 people about recycling and composting in the role of the property’s Sustainability Champion.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m especially proud of the volunteer work that I do with two non-profit organizations: Slow Food Austin and Les Dames d’Escoffier.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?
Be open-minded, don’t burn bridges, be humble and work hard. But it’s also important to find balance and avoid burning yourself out.
Tell us about a typical day in your working life.
I recently started V. Broussard Consulting, specializing in Food and Beverage Sourcing and Sustainability. Every day is different. On market days I stop by farm stands and farmers’ markets to stay up to date on local availability, to do my personal grocery shopping and to meet with purveyors that I may want to connect my clients with – right now I’ve got a variety of foodservice operators, including restaurants, caterers, a bakery and even a local rancher. Other days it’s lots of meetings, research, emails and networking.
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
That it even exists! I often get the question “Do you know of anyone else doing this?”
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I’m happy as long as I continue to grow and learn while supporting the people who grow and create great food.